Coming full circle, Newport Beach City Council once again heard several alternative street layout plans for Bayside Drive – one including a controversial roundabout – but this time took a different exit and voted for no traffic circle.
Abandoning the previously approved roundabout plan, the current council members voted 4-3 on Tuesday for the first option staff presented. Councilmen Brad Avery, Jeff Herdman and Scott Peotter dissented.
The approved plan would maintain the four lanes, but with reduced widths and strategically placed raised medians as traffic calming measures. In this concept, the Harbor Island Drive intersection remains “uncontrolled,” city staff explained in the report. The plan is meant to improve pedestrian and bicycle access, beautify the roadway and may provide a slight speed reduction with minimal impact to the flow of traffic, the report notes. Staff estimated alternative one would cost about $1.8 million.
On the prevailing side of the vote, Mayor Kevin Muldoon felt option one provided “significant” changes to the road, enough to calm traffic and create a safer road, while still maintaining flow.
Staff was a little “heavy-handed” in the delivery, Muldoon commented, although he understands their passion.
“This is not a zero-sum of us choosing danger, or anything extreme like that, because I do believe we are taking proactive measures to increase the safety of this road,” Muldoon said.
Several members of the public on both sides of the issue agreed that safety should be the top priority, but they split on whether or not a roundabout would increase or decrease the danger and on what plan was the safest.
It’s an emotional issue, particularly for the Bayside residents, Councilman Will O’Neill said.
“The safest option, frankly, would be to shut down the road, so anything short of that is a compromise at the end of the day,” O’Neill said. “So the question is where does that compromise go?”
Looking at the numbers and usage of the road versus the number of accidents – specifically the collisions where speed is a factor – it comes down to how to slow traffic down without disrupting drivers too much. O’Neill felt the best compromise would be option one.
Tuesday’s action discards the previous Council’s approval of the roundabout plan, which they voted 4-1 on in November.
At that time, Muldoon was the lone dissenting vote. Peotter was absent. Then-Councilman Ed Selich recused himself since he owns a home on Bayside Drive.
Former Councilman Petros, who works in the transportation planning industry, was outspoken on the issue in November.
“The amount of accidents that occur on this road are outside the norm for a road of its type,” Petros concluded. “To do nothing is the height of irresponsibility. We must do something.”
Petros has personal history with the street. A good friend of his died several years ago after crashing into a tree, he recalled.
“So I know, from personal experience, how dangerous this road can be,” Petros said.
To increase safety, they must slow the traffic down, Petros said.
This week, a few Bayside residents recalled numerous times drivers crashed into their property, trees, or parked cars. Many pointed out the number of kids that ride their bikes along the road.
“With a roundabout, there would still – potentially – be incidents, but they would be reduced down to more minor collision types,” Senior Civil Engineer Brad Sommers said Tuesday.
Roundabouts can still maintain the flow of traffic and help reduce the speed of traffic, he noted. Sommers, as a cyclist and a father of young kids, said roundabouts are “very easy to navigate.”
In November, Council voted to reduce the roadway from four to two lanes and install a roundabout at the Harbor Island Drive intersection, the plan that staff called concept two.
“This does have the greatest potential for traffic calming, reduction of speeds, as well as incident severity reduction,” Sommers said Tuesday.
During the extensive project outreach, staff found the roundabout option was the preferred alternative by the residents impacted the most by the project, those who front Bayside Drive, he added.
But the entire group couldn’t come to an agreement on which plan was best. The community was “polarized” on the issue, Sommers said.
Herdman, a Balboa Island resident, said he preferred the roundabout but moved the city do a “test run” on option three, since that seemed to be a plan some were able to agree on, considering all of the public input.
“That [option three] was the closest we could come to, as far as consensus is concerned, by all the stakeholders that were involved in this,” he said.
Linda Isle HOA board member Jim Jordan urged the council to conduct a trial run. He objected to the idea of reducing the number of lanes.
“Please do the trial, I think that is going to tell you whether or not you’ve created a monster or a solution,” he said.
A few resident who spoke during public comment Tuesday were on board with alternative plan three, a number wanted the council to uphold the previous approval of option two, and several who opposed the circle opted for the first plan.
More than 20 people spoke during public comment, fairly evenly split between supporting and opposing the roundabout.
Opponents raised concerns about negotiating the roundabout and the potential traffic congestion it could cause.
Balboa Island resident Pat Pence felt the roundabout would “result in less safe conditions,” for cyclists and pedestrians. The city shouldn’t try and force it into a community where it doesn’t work, he said.
“You don’t try to squeeze a roundabout in, you plan around a roundabout,” he said.
Robert Fox, who rides his bike, and drives his car and golf cart on the road, preferred to leave the road at four lanes. Reducing it down to two lane roads promote illegal passing and tailgating, he said.
Don’t mess with a “fairly successful roadway,” Fox said. A roundabout is not needed, he added.
“It’s much better to not fix what isn’t broken,” he said
He is in favor of improving the median or reducing the speed limit.
On the other side of the road, supporters of the roundabout said it would create a much needed slower flow of traffic.
Some supporters noted that the people against the idea aren’t directly affected by the traffic on the road.
Dave Brennan, who lives right on the Bayside and Harbor Island drives intersection, said he has 23 years of observation of what happens at that location. The combination of distracted drivers, speeding and the curves in the road that cause problems, he noted.
“This road is not a straight line, if it were a straight line, we’d probably have fewer problems,” he said.
It’s probably one of the most dangerous intersections in the city, he added.
The roundabout would mitigate the potential incidents and slow traffic down.
“Our time is running out on safety issues on that intersection,” Brennan said.
Bayside Drive resident Michelle Hall called the road an “open, four-lane speedway.” The curves in the road aid motorists in losing control, she added.
“It’s the physical layout of the street, it promotes speeding and easily a driver can be distracted because it’s just completely open,” which results in collisions, Hall said.
She quoted the low and high speeds reported by police from the traffic monitor – meant to be a speeding deterrent – on the drive, clocking in at an average high speed of 66 mph and the max at 86 mph.
“Those cars are really going that fast,” Hall said. “The people that live on Bayside Drive really see it because it’s right in front of us, how could we not see it?”
Cars don’t need to be passing in that section of road, she said, multiple lanes are unnecessary and dangerous
Staff studied the section of road and found that traffic capacity would increase to 34 percent, she pointed out, that’s not enough to get congested. The roundabout has benefits and is strategically placed, Hall added.
“The public, they’re not traffic experts,” she said. “It’s the council members who have the responsibility to put safety first, even if it’s not convenient.”